Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banning never will help

The Bodu Bala Sena have spoken. They have spurted rhetoric. They have declared “war” against the current regime. A “Sinhala Buddhist” leader in this country is what they want. No government has “delivered” on this count apparently. Sri Lanka is not a multicultural country (always a favourite slogan with these people). And, perhaps the showiest thing from them all, they have brought over a radical monk nicknamed the “Burmese Bin Laden” who may or may not (we don’t really know, such is the uncertainty that goes with doctoring and information-filtering) be as much a “terrorist” as they are.

As a Buddhist, I have found an infallible guide in life with the saying “ඒහි පස්සිකො” (come and see for yourself). No truer way to verifying fact without guesswork or rumour exists. All too often, I have come to believe that the media and politicians in Sri Lanka would have done better to follow it. They don’t, as we all know by now. This is true in pretty much every other field which involves fact-verification. We have warped religion (I am not just including Buddhism here) to serve the ideological preferences of those who “preach” it. The Bodu Bala Sena, many will say no doubt, are guilty of this. I agree. But there’s something here that doesn’t quite meet the eye.

The BBS was formed in 2012. One year later, they played a major (and unhelpful) role in the anti-Halal movement. That caught up like prairie fire, and gave them the publicity boost they had clamoured for. The head of that organisation, Gnanasara Thero, was not initially the violent man in public he is today. There was an interview with him, conducted around the time of the anti-Halal protests, on YATV. It’s available on YouTube. Watching it, one wonders whether he was as violent as he had always been cut out to be. I don’t think so. The Thero spoke rationally, some words of wisdom included. I quote:
“If the growth rate of the Sinhalese people is lower than that of the Muslims, it would be pointless to berate and hurl insults at the Muslim people without increasing our population by our own selves. This is not the time to wreck violence against other communities.”
Unimaginable as words coming from a person who has since done the same things, through words of course, he opposes in what he said.

There are some who believe that the BBS is being “helped” by outside forces. I’m not so sure. This is not merely because of the “ඒහි පස්සිකො” doctrine I follow in relation to fact and rumour, but rather owing to the simple fact that claims brought to this effect have failed so far. Not that the BBS has actually done a good job in denying these rumours either, but they remain as notoriously unverifiable as they always were. Still, I wouldn’t put down the possibility.

A friend of mine recently remarked that they were being “puppeteered” by some outside force. Again, unverifiable. For the sake of argument, though, let’s assume it’s not. The claim seems plausible enough on this count. The BBS may well be a joint conspiracy engineered by some hack overseas. The end-goal may well be to stir up anti-regime feeling by (pseudo) anti-Muslim sentiment. It doesn’t take much time to connect the dots and see what force is having which goal.

For one thing, who or what is to account for the rise of this militant organisation? We are yet to have an answer to that question. That’s what bothering me. Rumours of government-backing, implicit police-force-support, and divisionary tactics to win government-support, are at best claims and opinions and nothing more. But they aren't being allayed by the powers that be either. That's worrying.

In politics, as in pretty much everything else, denial can be construed as acceptance. The government has denied. Doesn’t mean they have the final word. Lies can be whitewashed. Complicity need not be open for all to see. Some say that Gotabaya Rajapaksa is active behind the BBS. Again, this can’t be verified. But actions by the powers that be don’t actually help on this count. The fingers, as always, are and will continue to be pointed at them.

We have a right of demand, though. Calls for arresting Gnanasara Thero are meaningless and will be at best a mild thawing of the ice. There’s more to the BBS than meets the eye. Questions arise, such as what the BBS was doing once upon a time in Norway. Wimal Weerawansa and Dilan Perera have dabbled in claim-throwing against them. Rajitha Senaratne has called and indeed is calling for the banning of their organisation. That’s promising, but hardly enough.

Banning something, we have all learnt in history, does not help. The LTTE was proscribed. Didn’t stop them. Neither will it stop the BBS. All too often, we (this applies to every country and not just Sri Lanka) are content with assassinating key figureheads in enemy organisations. Bin Laden was killed. That didn’t stop Al-Qaeda. Instead, today we have another jihadist menace going by the name of ISIS.

There’s another Buddhist doctrine I have always applied in my life: “චතුරාර්ය සත්‍ය”, or the Four Noble Truths. Suffering does not cease by a temporary absence of it. Never will. Only by understanding the larger nuances of what lies beneath can we really come close to eradicating the ills of this world. Thing is, we don’t really subscribe to this view. We embrace stopgap cure without finding the permanent solution.

We yell and holler “war!” That’s alright, if what the war is combating is a deadly, duplicitous menace that really needs to be put down. But not enough. War is fought for reasons, however unjustifiable and unreasonable they may be. Unless and until we look at them and the bigger picture behind them, we can’t hope to improve. Or, in the case of the BBS, to eradicate.

Ashin Wirathu, the so-called “Burmese Bin Laden”, made some pertinent remarks the other day. He spoke about extremism. About how it needs to be combated. About how the more moderate sections of the community need to rally together. True enough. I don’t deny that. Even Gnanasara Thero made a point, a big one: “it is high time that politicians in this country stopped creating division and came together for the sake of the country”. Those who tend to blackface the BBS and everything associated with them failed to take note of these points. That wasn’t surprising.

It’s not that the BBS don’t have a point, hence. It’s just that they are at odds with the interpretation of Buddhism my countrymen and I were raised with in this country. Arresting them isn’t the answer. There are attitudes that need to change, and not just with regard to the Sinhala Buddhist community in this country. After all, vilifying the one does not absolve the other. We need to see what the BBS are driving at, sift the true from the false, and undress the hypocrite. There’s a whole maze out there. Blindly embracing either pro- or anti-BBS epithets is not going to work.

In other words, presumptions are meaningless. But denials won’t help. Solid proof will.